Its common knowlage that the Japanese people tend to have a very severe work ethic, they basically "live for their companies". Unlike Westerners, they work not for a paycheck, personal wealth, or fun, but in order to see the company succeed, and their nation prosper. Most buisnessmen work overtime, without overtime pay,or even a nice "thank you", it is actually expected. These men and women sacrifice their freetime, family life and sometimes themselves just to see their company do well.
The philosophy is usually along the lines of "being rewarded by the sense that the company succeeds", and "selflessness is honor". This stems from the japanese tradition of working towards a common goal, to keep their country on top. Traditionally they've felt isolated, and had the need to work together to ward off other countries. This is especially when they've come from a heritage of small rice plantation farmers who had to work in small family-tribes to survive. It also stems from the fact that Japan is a highly homogenious nation, and that as a whole they think of each other as one large family, that they must protect, and live together as a team, rather than individuals.
Every job is seen as important in Japan, and not to be taken lightly. A good example is public service jobs, such as waiters, gas station attendants, store clerks, and the like. The service any customer recieves is amazing compared to other countries. The customer is treated like a king. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that the customer is like a family member, and should be treated as such. The customer must be treated well, because he/she is a member of this great society, and if he/she is "let down" by the service, then how can Japan remain such a great nation if the even the people don't respect it.
Today this is starting to fade away as the younger genteration sees other contries rewarding hard work, and overtime with bonuses, "pats on the back", and raises. This notions is still strong with the older generatoin, and could still remain for another 100 years.
One of the major problems with this today is that even if a Japanese employee doesn't want to do the overtime, but wants to be a "normal worker" he must, simply because he would be fired, and easily replaced by someone who would gladly take his job.
This is a perfect example of the employee being "Just another gear in the corporate machine". This metaphor states that even though a worker has an important job, if he/she "breaks" they can be easily replaced, and therefore has no individual value. This allows japanese mega-corporations to have endless power over their employees.